Psalm 22

Psalm 22
The Forsaking of Christ and His Praise in Resurrection
Psalm 22. The inscription indicates that this is a psalm of David. It was written to the tune of “Aijeleth-Shahar”, meaning “the hind of the dawn of the morning” or “hind of the morning”. There are a few thoughts that this title brings to mind. First, the sight of a deer at dawn is beautiful. This Psalm, though full of suffering, brings out the beauty of Christ in a remarkable way. Second, it could indicate that the Psalm has the morning in view from the outset; i.e. a picture of resurrection (see Gen. 49:21). Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm, and it is quoted five times in the New Testament! The first part of the Psalm (vv.1-21) is the prayer of Messiah in deep distress, not only as forsaken by man, but also forsaken by God. The second part of the Psalm (vv.21b-31) is His praise after His prayer is answered! He is utterly forsaken at the beginning, but surrounded by millions of praisers at the end!
To the chief Musician. Upon Aijeleth-Shahar. A Psalm of David.
1 “My GOD, my GOD, why hast thou forsaken me?” [quoted Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34] why art thou far from my salvation, from the words of my groaning?
2 My God, I cry by day, and thou answerest not; and by night, and there is no rest for me:
3 And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel.
vv.1-3 Christ, forsaken of God. Earlier in the series it was “the day of trouble” (Psa. 20:1, referring to the cross generally), but now we come to the time when Christ was abandoned by God. In v.1 we have the cry of abandonment, which Christ uttered on the cross at the end of the three hours of darkness. This would lead us to believe that during the hours of darkness Christ was abandoned by God. Not only did Jehovah “lay on Him the iniquity of us all”, but also “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). To put away sin, Jesus went down into the place of sin itself, and was judged as sin by a Holy God. He was judged as a man alone with God, not wielding His divine power to shelter Him from the unmitigated wrath of God. As the Incarnate Love, He felt in His own holy soul the horror of sin, and endured the wrath of God against it. While making atonement, He was forsaken by His God. At the end of three hours, He uttered the cry of abandonment; “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” . In doing so, the Lord perfectly fulfilled v.1 of our Psalm, and also gave us some small inkling of what transpired in those three hours, though it goes far beyond our powers of understanding. In vv.1-3 we have the inner thoughts and feelings of the suffering Christ, as He pours out His heart. The depth of emotion is incredible; “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not…”. It is beautiful to see that He can vindicate God in it all; “And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel”.  It would seem that the primary thought here is that Christ owns the holiness of God, and that whatever He might pass His Servant through, nevertheless He is holy! What a lesson for us. But secondarily, there may be a thought here too that Christ’s suffering was necessary because of the demands of God’s holiness with respect to our sins.
4 Our fathers confided in thee: they confided, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered; they confided in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and the despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying:
8 Commit it to Jehovah — let him rescue him; “let him deliver him, because he delighteth in him!” [quoted Matthew 27:43]
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb; thou didst make me trust, upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my GOD from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
vv.4-11 Trust in God. The Psalmist reviews the trustworthiness of God in these verses. In vv.4-5, he remarks at how his fathers had put their trust in God and were delivered. But now, the Messiah was abandoned by the God He perfectly trusted! Never was a righteous man abandoned by God; except in this one instance. David felt that he was forsaken, but in reality he was not. Christ was truly forsaken. In vv.6-8 Christ speaks of His humiliation; “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men”. It is amazing to consider the depths of Christ’s humiliation as a man. Those who observed the suffering Messiah on the cross – “all they that see me” – mocked Him, and mocked His trust in Jehovah His God. The passers-by (Matt. 27:40) would have been Jews from all over Palestine that had come to Judea and were passing through the gate to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. They walked by the true Passover as He hung on the cross, and they shook their heads at Him in mockery. The misconstrued His statements, they mocked His power as He hung, crucified in weakness, and they also mocked His Divinity; “If thou art Son of God, descend from the cross.” The Jewish leaders (Matt. 27:41-43) rose even higher in their insults, mocking His apparent helplessness in the face of all Jesus had done to “save others”. They mocked His Messiahship, and finally they dishonored Him as Son of God. What is most awful about this suffering is that they were calling into question His identity as the Son of God, and His relationship with God as His Father. As if God would not have His Son! The Sanhedrin actually quoted Psalm 22:8, unwittingly fulfilling the voice of the godless mockers.  But Jesus had to let that mockery stand unanswered, not because it was true – nothing could be further from the truth – but because He had a deeper motive. In vv.9-11, Christ tenderly appeals to God as the One He had depended on, and found trustworthy, from the moment of birth on. It isn’t the father-son relationship here, but the God-man relationship. He calls to the God who had always been there for Him, not to stand aloof from Him now in His greatest need, when all others had forsaken Him; “Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help”. But there was silence; the heaven over His head was like brass, and the earth under Him like iron (Deut. 28:23)… abandoned.
12 Many bulls have encompassed me; Bashan’s strong ones have beset me round.
13 They gape upon me with their mouth, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my palate; and thou hast laid me in the dust of death.
vv.12-15 Suffering at the hands of Jewish leaders. Turning more now to His sufferings at the hand of man, Christ speaks of the oppression of the Jewish leaders (compare bulls with dogs). In vv.12-13 the circling pressure the Jewish leaders is pictured by the strong bulls of Bashan (that favored cattle-land to the east of Jordan), who are incredibly determined, and whose eyes are quickly blinded by rage. Yet when they open their mouths it is “as a ravening and a roaring lion”. Satan’s power is behind them, as well as the Gentiles (v.21a). In vv.14-15, numerous expressions of despair, helplessness, agonoy, and suffering are given. Finally, death (at the will of God) is very near; “thou hast laid me in the dust of death”.
16 For dogs have encompassed me; an assembly of evil-doers have surrounded me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may count all my bones. They look, they stare upon me;
18 “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” [quoted John 19:24]
19 But thou, Jehovah, be not far from me; O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my only one from the power of the dog;
21a Save me from the lion’s mouth.
vv.16-21a Suffering at the hands of Gentiles. The figure of bulls is exchanged for dogs (v.16), which were unclean animals in the Old Testament – noted for their shameful habits and heartless cruelty – and often used in reference to Gentiles (Mark 7:28). No doubt this would refer to the crowd of Roman soldiers, under Pilate’s command, who surrounded the Lord, and crucified Him. Although it was written 1000 years before Christ, the method of His death is specified; “they pierced my hands and my feet”. In v.17, Christ looks upon His own naked and tortured body. In v.16, He takes notice of His clothing, which the soldiers had removed. This verse is quoted in John 19:24, when the soldiers took Jesus’ clothes, and tore them in four parts, one for each soldier. But the “vesture” or coat was seamless, one woven piece from the top to the bottom. Because to rend such a coat would ruin it, they chose to gamble or cast lots for it. It was truly inhuman treatment, but it amazingly fulfilled Psalm 22:18. In vv.19-21a the Lord cries out to Jehovah His God for help and deliverance. The “sword” would refer to judgment (Zech. 13:7), “the power of the dog” is the strength of man, and “the lion’s mouth” is the power of Satan. The word sometimes translated “my darling” or “my only one” refers to the human life of Christ. The Psalms present Christ as a man; every bit as human as you or I. It was part of Christ’s humanity to value His own life, and this makes His willingness to lay it down all the more precious! It would seem that v.21 is referred to in Hebrews 5; “he was heard for his piety”.

A Turning Point. The turning point is in v.21, all suffering before it, all praise after it! The second half of the Psalm is on resurrection ground, and it gives is the results of Christ’s work on the cross. The effect of Christ’s sufferings at the hands of men is judgment upon men (compare with Psalm 69). The effect of His sufferings at the hands of God is an unending stream of blessing! Notice the progression of blessing flowing out to man, the redeemed in association with Christ. In v.22, Messiah would praise Jehovah “my brethren, in the midst of the congregation” (the remnant), and in v.25 “in the great congregation” (all Israel), and in v.27 “all the ends of the earth” (the nations). These are enlarging circles of blessing leading into the kingdom. On the cross Christ was forsaken, alone. In resurrection He is not alone, but is surrounded by those who love Him, are like Him, and appreciate His sacrifice!
21b Yea, from the horns of the buffaloes hast thou answered me.
22 “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” [quoted Hebrews 2:12]
23 Ye that fear Jehovah, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and revere him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him: but when he cried unto him, he heard.
vv.21b-24 In the congregation. It would seem that the suffering Christ was given assurance just prior to death that His prayer was heard, and it would be answered.1 The “horns of the buffaloes” refers to one who is pierced by horns; i.e. when death is imminent, almost the moment of death. This follows in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion. The abandonment did not extend to the point of death. He must die to complete the work of atonement, but the forsaking seems to end at the ninth hour. Afterwards He could say, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But the full answer to the cry of the suffering Christ is seen in resurrection! We find in v.22 that Christ would declare Jehovah’s name to His brethren, the faithful remnant. We know this was fulfilled at least partially in John 20, when Christ declared the Father’s name to the disciples. But there is a future day when the Lord will make Jehovah’s name known in a special way to the faithful remnant. This v.22 is quoted in Hebrews 2 for the purpose of showing that Christ in resurrection identifies Himself with “the sanctified ones”. There is a certain sense in which this “my brethren” includes all the resurrected heavenly saints from across time! Christ leads the praises of Jehovah in the congregation of His brethren, not only today but in the congregation of restored Israel as well. The call goes out in vv.23-24 to all of Israel to glorify God, and praise Him, on account of the deliverance of Christ. Was He heard? “When he cried unto him, he heard” (v.24).
25 My praise is from thee, in the great congregation; I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise Jehovah that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
vv.25-26 In the Great Congregation. The scope is expanded from “the congregation” to “the great congregation”. All of Israel is now comprehended. Christ will fulfill all the promises made to Israel; “I will pay my vows before them that fear him”. The “meek” are those who have faith, in contrast with the unbelieving part of the nation, carried away in pride and self-will. Those who did not take the mark of the beast may have gone hungry for 3 1/2 years, but in the Millennium “the meek shall eat and be satisfied”. Those who seek Jehovah (those of faith) will be granted the opportunity to praise Him, no doubt in the Millennial temple complex described in Ezekiel. Their hearts will live on in this state of joy “for ever”; i.e. for 1000 years.
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah, and all the families of the nations shall worship before thee:
28 For the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and he ruleth among the nations.
29 All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship; all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, and he that cannot keep alive his own soul.
vv.27-29 The Ends of the Earth. Again, the circle of praise is expanded. This time it includes the Gentiles which will be brought to the Lord in the Millennium. Clearly, this has not yet been fulfilled! There will come a day when the nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship (Isa. 2:1-2). There they will learn what Christ has accomplished on the cross, and remember it. Those who have plenty (“all the fat ones of the earth”) and those who have nothing and are about to die (“all they that go down to the dust”) will alike find themselves bowing before Christ, worshipping Jehovah. There these Gentiles will find blessing. It is universal worship!
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it.
vv.30-31 A Future Seed. We find in these closing verses a beautiful touch for the Messiah, who I believe is referred to as Adonai (“Lord”). Christ will have a group of faithful ones, a seed, that will be “accounted” to Him as “a generation”, even though the Lord Himself had no natural children as a man (Isaiah 53:8). These ones will be His devoted praisers, who will “declare his righteousness” to those who are born later in the Millennium. They will declare to those who do not know it, the righteous foundation for all the blessing of the kingdom. For example, someone born in year 500 of the kingdom will have no clue who is responsible for bringing it about, and what it cost to have it so. This seed, restored Israel (see v.23), will have the privilege of announcing to all that “he hath done it”; i.e. Christ gets all the credit, because He completed the work of the cross! In fact, there is some similarity in the words “he hath done” and Christ’s victorious cry, “Finished!”. It all goes back to that wonderful foundation.
  1. At this point when He is transfixed, the Lord is conscious of being heard. He bows His head in death, His blood is shed. So it must be in atonement. – Kelly, W. Notes on Psalms.